Love on Display: Showing Christ to refugees is multifaceted

How can you be a friend and care for someone who misses her family and is concerned for her well-being? How do you respond to a young girl who shows you her good grades and tells you she dreams of becoming a doctor? What do you do when you are served a delicious meal or cup of tea? Instead of reacting the same way for each of these scenarios, you find an appropriate response that indicates you share that person’s concern and sadness. You express how proud you are of the child’s accomplishments or thank your host for her hospitality. When you respond to refugees, you can also look for ways to show compassion, share in their joy, and show your appreciation.

Adapt for the Situation

My experiences with refugees have depended on where I was, who I was with, how long I was staying, and what the circumstances were. Because of its close proximity, I can make multiple trips a year to a city near me that resettles refugees. I try to visit families I have met before. Sometimes I meet new ones. This has opened the door to share Bible stories over tea, sit with a family in fresh grief after losing a young child, and hear what life was like before they came to the United States. Since no visit was the same, I chose specific Bible stories appropriate to share for the visit or the season, if we were celebrating a holiday. I adapted the way I showed compassion to best fit the situation, whether the mood was joyful or heavy-hearted.

When you meet refugees who are in the US, befriend them as you would any new neighbor. Attempt to get to know their family over shared meals or tea. If they invite you over to eat, graciously accept their invitation. True enjoyment will be the best hostess gift you could offer. Even if you cannot speak much of their language, body language and smiles will convey your gratitude. Sometimes you show love by providing a tangible need. Other times, the need may be relational. Jesus modeled this approach throughout His earthly life.

Encounters with refugees in the US can prepare you for meeting them overseas. Some of the refugees I met while in another country had fled persecution. Others had left their war-torn homeland. National believers served as my translators while visiting refugees in their homes. I was encouraged to watch Christians who genuinely enjoyed being around the people they ministered to. Even if you must speak through a translator, find the appropriate time to offer hope, encouragement, Bible stories, and the gospel. By doing so, you are reaffirming their value as people created in God’s image. Never underestimate the impact that will have on them.

Give Yourself Away

I cherish the ways refugees have impacted my life. Whether you meet refugees across the state line or across the ocean, authentic friendship goes a long way. The opportunities God has given me to love them have been priceless. As I have laughed with them, listened to their stories, and sat with them as they shed tears, I discovered how showing love and hospitality meant receiving their outpour of love and hospitality in my life. In the end, I walked away with a precious, intangible gift.

Melanie Van Laningham is grateful for the opportunities God has given her to befriend refugees.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appears as part of the My Refugee Response series in Missions Mosaic (January 2018).

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